In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Show Tunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.
The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, IMPEACHMENT: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): The doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job—helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.
Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be.
Let me start with what Mary Jane is not. Despite the bold publisher blurb, it IS NOT “Almost Famous” meets Daisy Jones and the Six. At least they get the next bit right when they call it a “funny, wise, and tender novel about a fourteen-year-old girl’s coming of age in 1970s Baltimore.”
More from my list of IS/IS NOT:
- It IS actually funny. I LOL’d more than once and smiled often.
- It IS NOT a Young Adult novel. Despite the 14-year-old protagonist, Mary Jane has mature themes well suited for mature readers.
- It IS a literary trip back to the 1970s. Avocado-colored appliances, macrame, and President Ford references abound.
- It IS NOT a novel with a huge “what will happen” plot that pulls readers through its pages. This is a slice-of-life story where the enjoyment comes from the characters and their experiences together.
- It IS a great exploration of class, race, lifestyle and gender stereotypes from the era. In one summer, Mary Jane leaves the sheltered nest of her conservative home when she nannies for a free-spirited family that opens her eyes to many things including the alternative meaning of her name. ;)
Really, Mary Jane is just a delight. If you can still squeeze in one last trip to the beach or pool this summer, toss this in your tote bag and get ready to rock and roll with a groovy girl and her far out friends-to-family story.
4 ½ rounded up. I would not compare this book to another as it can stand on it’s own merit!!
This was a refreshingly fun and ultimately hopeful book, perfect to read right now. It isn’t easy to write in the voice of a child but this author gets it all right, Mary Jane is 14 and Izzy is 5.
The summer that Mary Jane is 14 she gets asked to nanny for the Cones. They will be having some guests staying with them and would like Mary Jane to be Izzy’s nanny for the summer. Bored at home with mostly her books as friends she jumps at the chance to do something different, be somewhere different! SHE IS IN FOR QUITE AN EDUCATION!!!
Our super star, Mary Jane, came across as a bit naive but considering how she was raised and attending a super strict school, it was believable. Izzy, the daughter of a psychiatrist and his wife, is a happy, carefree little girl, wise beyond her years. She was not always looked after by her parents properly but they did show her a lot of love. The Cones are huggers and kissers and it takes a while for Mary Jane to adjust
The Cones looked like an average well off family from the outside, but once inside the house Mary Jane is speechless. She looks around and sees books, toys and clothes piled everywhere, stacked everywhere, she can hardly SEE THE FLOOR IN IZZY’S ROOM.
Mary Jane’s parents are very strict and don’t show much emotion. Her mother takes good care of her but doesn’t really encourage to grow, try new things or be herself. She loved music and that was the one thing that her mother shared with her.
The Cone’s are opposites in a very extreme way. They see life differently and also each have some unfulfilled dreams. But they hug and kiss Izzy, play with her and sing with her, it’s a HAPPY HOUSE!!!!!!!!!!
On one of the last weeks of summer, everyone, including Mary Jane go to a beach house. So many fun and happy days and nights!!
With our rock star involved we know there is going to be a point at which these two couples collide. Unfortunately some of this is all witnessed by Mary Jane.
O.K. I’m going on too long. This is just great storytelling with characters I didn’t want to let go of. I liked the ending. I think it allows the readers to decide for themselves what will happen next!!
I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through Edelweiss.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau, Caitlin Kinnunen (Narrator)
It's 1975 and fourteen year old Mary Jane lives with her well to do, straight laced to the max, mom and dad in an affluent Baltimore community. Mary Jane lands a summer job as a nanny for a doctor and his wife and will be taking care of five year old, red headed, Izzy. If only her parents knew the world that Mary Jane was entering, her parents would have locked her in her room for the rest of her life.
The Cones are everything that Mary Jane's parents are not. They are loud, chaotic, unfettered free spirits. While Mary Jane's parents dictate every part of her life, Izzy has no rules and it seems that her parents would forget she existed if Izzy wasn't so clingy to anyone who will give her attention. Mary Jane brings structure and education to Izzy's life but without the coldness of her upbringing with her parents.
Dr. Cone is treating a famous rock star and the star and his famous actress wife will be staying with the Cones for the summer. Both couples embrace Mary Jane into their lives and consider her family and soon Mary Jane is spending every weekday waking hour at the Cones. She shops and cooks for them, does all their housework, makes every moment a teaching moment for Izzy, and Mary Jane's eyes open to stranglehold her parents had on her mind and body. This is when Mary Jane starts telling her mom lies because she cannot let her mom know what really goes on at the Cone house.
The story can be taken many ways and I focused on the sweetness of Mary Jane and Izzy. Mary Jane is the most mature person in the Cone household and the only character (besides anxious, clingy, Izzy) who doesn't seem to be a caricature. None of the three couples, Mary Jane's parents, the Cones, or the rock star/actress pair made a good impression on me, but Mary Jane shines as a teenage girl realizing that there is so much more to life than what she has been led to believe.
The audiobook is very good and at the end of it there is a song so that's the best way to experience the story. I'm going to miss Mary Jane but I know she'll go on to continue doing good things, seeing the world the way it really is, seeing the good in all the differences that she encounters. Izzy is so lucky to have Mary Jane in her life!
Oh my, did this bring back some memories. I grew up in Northern Baltimore, amidst the whole WASP private school, country club deal. It took going away to college to understand what an enclave it was. The anti-semitism and racism were just givens. I’ll never forget being told bringing home a black friend to the Hunt Cup would create a problem. It’s 1975 and Mary Jane is fourteen when she takes a job as a summer nanny for the Jewish couple next door. The father is a psychiatrist and has cleared his calendar to help a rockstar detox. The star and his actress wife come to live with the family. Thus, Mary Jane is introduced to the extremely liberal world of “sex, drugs and rock and roll”. But more than that, this family is disorganized in the extreme. Forget housekeeping, the refrigerator is one big science experiment. The contrast between Mary Jane’s “respectable” family and the progressive family leads to quite a few chuckles. As does Mary Jane’s belief she is a sex addict, despite never having kissed a boy or seen a man nude. She did come across a bit naive, more like 12 than 14, but that’s a minor quibble. But on a deeper note, Blau also contrasts a family that never says “I love you”, but is always protective, with the warmth of the Cones who sometimes forget the care a five year old needs. The book also tackles some sensitive issues, like addiction and infidelity, but as seen through the eyes of a young person. Blau keeps the focus on these issues on how they impact Mary Jane, and how her understanding of adults changes over the summer. Ignore the comparisons to Daisy Jones or Almost Famous. Neither are appropriate. But this book shines all on its own. Caitlin Kinnunen was the perfect narrator. She channeled Mary Jane just the way I would imagine her sounding. She’s also one of the few narrators who can voice a child without it grating on my nerves so I’ll forgive her mispronunciations of all the local stores.
Absolutely superb! It's going down as one of my favourites for 2021
The story is wonderful and compelling. I listened to the audible version and the narrator was magnificent with all the voices and exceptionally well with Mary Jane's.
It's the summer of 1975 in Baltimore, Maryland. Mary Jane Dillard lives with her very conservative and strict parents. She's a sweet girl who abides by them. Mary Jane is 14 years old and has just come upon her first summer job. She will be babysitting a 5 year old girl down the street. As far as Mary Jane's parents go (especially her mother) the Cones are an acceptable family to work for. After all Mr. Cone is a doctor and you can't get any more respectable than that. When Mary Jane arrives at the Cone home to care for the ever loving Izzy she is shocked. The home is messy and Dr. Cone and Mrs. Cone are polar opposites of her parents. Then Mary Jane finds out that Dr. Cone is a psychiatrist and will be treating a famous person who will come to stay with the Cones for the summer. Things take an exciting turn when Mary Jane discovers who the famous person along with his wife are.
It's a summer to remember and to grow for sweet Mary Jane. She becomes very close to the Cones and their guests and discovers a new found freedom.
I was immersed in the story right away and could not stop listening. The time period was very well researched with the mentions of the fashions, foods, tv shows and especially the music.
What a surprising treat at the end of the audible with that fantastic song!!! Can't recommend this one enough! Do yourself a favour before summer ends and read or better yet LISTEN to this book. It's fully entertaining!
4.5 What a delightful story. Its been a while since I read a book that made me smile and that upon finishing I felt content, satisfied. A coming of age story with a young fourteen year Mary Jane, whose life to date is organized regimented, an only child who is ignored by her father. This will, in one summer, change when she is allowed to be the helper, nanny to a four year old, whose father is a psychiatrist. The difference between her home, and her work place, couldn't be more different. The freedom she experiences the responsibilities she undertakes, raises her self confidence, but also show her the person she has inside herself. A wonderful, musical return to the seventies, as well.
When a rock star, being treated for heroin addiction and his famous wife move in for the summer, all bets are off and Mary Jane will learn many different ways to live. There are serious issues here, sexual situations, but all are handled in a often humorous manner, friendly but well explained. This is a wonderful summer read and a welcome detour from heavier fare.
This is one of my favorite novels this year! I thank GR friend Holly for her terrific review which brought this to my radar. What a delight it was to be engrossed in the summer of 1975 with the sweet and endearing Mary Jane.
This is billed as a coming-of-age novel, which it is. But it’s also a time piece. We are transported to that interesting time when strict conservatism and bohemian lifestyles flourished. It was also a time of limited digital access. There were no smart phones or 24-hour news channels. Author Jessica Anya Blau chose a wealthy neighborhood in Baltimore as her setting. Blau lived there with her family and got to learn a bit of the history of the area. In 1975 Jews and “colored” people couldn’t join country clubs. In fact, Mary Jane’s father informs her that Jews and “colored” people were physically different from whites. Blau also adds a lot of music from that time. In an interview, Blau said that she had siri/alexa play the top 100 from 1975 (I never even thought of that). Old music that you loved and have forgotten is background to this fun novel.
Mary Jane narrates this story. Her innocence is adorable. She chose not to go to summer sleep away camp, so she procures a job as a summer nanny for a doctor down the street. Her parents agree, not understanding that Dr. Cone is a psychiatrist….and a JEW!! Yikes!! Mary Jane absolutely loves her charge, Izzy. Plus, the Cone home is a bit of a mess, as Mrs. Cone doesn’t like housework or cooking. Mary Jane comes from a strict home, where her mother controls every aspect of their lives. Every item has it’s place. Food is always on the table at meal time with Mary Jane assisting her. Now, Mary Jane is exposed to another totally different lifestyle. She sees a mother who loves her daughter (Mrs. Cone), but doesn’t define herself as a housewife. Mary Jane enjoys getting the Cone home in domesticated order.
The fun starts when Dr. Cone takes on a famous patient that he needs to treat for drug addiction and sex addiction. Mary Jane knows her parents would not allow her to work in a home were a drug addict (oh no!) and a sex addict is being treated.
Here in lies the fun of the novel, seeing this new lifestyle through the eyes of Mary Jane. It’s a coming-of-age story in that at the age of fourteen, Mary Jane is understanding that there are different ways of living.
What makes this adorable is Mary Jane trying to process the differences in households. She was taught one way, and the way that the Cones are living are totally unacceptable; except Mary Jane sees the loving part, the functioning part.
I listened to the audio narrated by Caitlin Kinnunen. Caitlin is fantastic as the voice of Mary Jane. I highly recommend the audio! I absolutely adored listening and was sad when it was over.
I couldn’t find the magic in this story about an adolescent who one summer works a babysitting gig for a free-spirited family. The protagonist and narrator is Mary Jane Dillard, a naïve but mature and capable fourteen-year-old, and the child of two bland parents who live their lives in traditional gender roles. The Dillards have all the trappings of a rich, white family: They belong to a country club, live in an elegant house in a posh neighborhood, and send their daughter to a pricy private school. Their concerns never extend beyond the comfortingly banal: cooking, gardening, church-going. Mary Jane’s parents are offensive to her because her life with them is boring and rigid. The stage is set for her to put the Cones, a family totally unlike her own, on a pedestal.
This book isn’t especially original; it’s just another tale about someone who discovers the joys to be found in embracing a carefree approach to life--or rather, it’s supposed to be. The story has a huge problem here, and it’s at the very core of that premise: Mary Jane discovers this joy via a really dysfunctional family.
For most of this book, I felt little pings of surprise but no strong feelings. By the end, I was deeply annoyed, even angry. The Cones, the family Jessica Anya Blau wants her readers to view as the ideal, are laissez-faire to a fault. They neglect their five-year-old��s physical needs; leave their fridge packed with mostly spoiled food; house Jimmy and Sheba, ditzy celebrities who live with the Cones while Jimmy works to get sober; and smoke pot (with the drug addict who’s trying to get sober) in front of their kid. They not only have no qualms about having a fourteen-year-old grocery shop daily, cook all three meals daily, clean up their messes, and entirely care for their child for long hours each day, but they delight in it. And Blau expected her reader to delight in it too because she confused the Cone parents’ irresponsibility and chaos with a refreshing brand of rebellion. She assumed that as long as she depicted them as kind overall, as long as they kissed and encouraged their five-year-old, they couldn’t be described as neglectful. She thought that it’s supposed to be part of some flaky charm that these parents hired not a teen babysitter but a replacement parent and maid.
Mary Jane is about the titular Mary Jane, but it’s also a tale of two families: the Dillards and Cones. However, the bulk of the story is centered on the mess that is the Cone family, with the Dillards an afterthought, as if Blau found them too boring to even think about. Unfortunately for the story, without any vivid sense of the Dillard parents, it’s even harder to understand, much less appreciate, why the Cones hold so much appeal for Mary Jane. But ultimately, for these families to be contrasted in any meaningful way, they’d have to be nuanced, and all the characters, even narrator Mary Jane, are flat as boards.
Toward the end, when the Dillard parents finally get more page time, they prove to be not that offensive. Blau’s view of family is black-and-white: a straitlaced family is automatically all bad, and a devil-may-care family is automatically all good. The Dillard parents aren’t perfect--their elitist, prejudiced, and sexist views are abhorrent, to be sure--but they behave as parents to their daughter and run a properly functioning household. They simply aren’t oppressive enough for it to make sense that a daughter they’ve taken good care of for fourteen years would turn against them so passionately.
It’s in these later pages that my annoyance turned to anger. I thought that the story was going to redeem itself when
The only thing Mary Jane has going for it is Mary Jane herself. She’s a likable narrator who tells the story in an easygoing, conversational voice that kept my attention to the very end. For this reason, as a reading experience, Mary Jane is good--Blau’s personable writing style is exactly the kind I gravitate toward--but as a story experience, it’s exasperating. The bones of a stand-out story are here but only the bones. Mary Jane is both too undeveloped and too problematic to be called complete, and it’s way too annoying to be the joyful story Blau was intending.
NOTE: I received this as an Advance Reader Copy from Goodreads in March 2021.
Click here to hear my thoughts on this book over on my Booktube channel, abookolive.
This is an adorable coming-of-age story set in 1975 Baltimore. Mary Jane Dillard, the title character, is a 14-year-old girl working as a summer nanny in a rather eccentric household; Two celebrities come to stay at the house in which she's working for the summer and Mary Jane ends up having the most life-changing time of her young life. This is a relaxing, sweet story and I loved it to bits.
This is a great summer read, a coming of age story of a fourteen year old girl in the mid ‘70’s set in Baltimore, MD. It is though, reflective in a broader sense of what was happening in the country, the time of “sex, drugs and rock and roll”. The novel touches on some serious topics such as drug addiction, anti semitism, racism, but the touch is light. Mary Jane comes from a picture perfect home, or so it seems. When she takes on a job as a nanny for a the five year old daughter of a psychiatrist and his wife, Mary Jane finds herself in a world that couldn’t be further from her own life. The Cones’ home is messy; Mrs. Cone doesn’t cook, doesn’t wear a bra and Dr. Cone is taking in for the summer an addicted rock star and his famous actress wife to help him through recovery.
Instead of running out the door, Mary Jane comes to love this “family” as they do her. What ensues that summer is funny, sad at times and heartwarming as Mary Jane learns what it’s like to say “I love you”, something her parents never say, learns some things about herself. I found this to be an enjoyable and entertaining story. A lighter read was just what I needed. Loved the ending.
I received a copy of this book from Custom House through Edelweiss.
Upping this to a 5 - Everyone needs a little Mary Jane in their lives! And because this is such a memorable and fun one, I'm giving it the stars it deserves
Ah, Mary Jane. No, not the weed, but the 14 year old who is coming of age in a ragingly fascinating introduction to the world during the 70’s. This is a baptism by fire! Straight laced Mary Jane becomes the nanny for Izzy for the summer. Izzy’s parents - a little unorthodox in many ways - from what MJ is used to. Dad is a psychiatrist who is treating a rock star; his wife is an actress and model. The house is a disaster. But out of this chaos, Mary Jane is enlightened by what the love of a family can look like- very unlike her own. This was quirky and fun - As were the characters. I recommend this gem for a light hearted read :) 4⭐️
The summer nanny, Mary Jane sees some chaotic and shocking things when she meets the Cone family!
This was an enjoyable, amusing little getaway.
It is all about the characters. Mary Jane is fourteen and is hired by The Cones family to be "nanny" to their five year old daughter, Izzy. Mary's mom is thrilled because the family seems so respectable- Mr. Cone is a doctor and they live in a nice house in the neighborhood. Don't let that fool you though! Mary Jane is in store for quite an eye-opening summer.
The Cone's reminded me of Greg's parents in the movie Meet The Fockers , played by Streisand and Hoffman , who were wildly unconventional( the clash of culture and priorities). The Cone's are more the "hippies" while Mary's parents are the straight-laced country club goers!
You can expect - 1970's nostalgia, sex, drugs and rock n roll references, cluttered living, bra-free living, and some serious issues that are handled compassionately.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau is a 2021 Custom House publication.
Mary Jane, a fourteen-year-old from Baltimore accepts a summer job babysitting five-year old Izzy Cone. Izzy’s father is a psychiatrist who takes on a famous rock star with a serious drug problem.
The famous musician and his actress wife, moves into the home for the entire summer, a home that is already chaotic. Despite the respectable outward appearance, the Cone’s do not keep house, cook healthy meals, or live any sort of conventional life- a far cry from Mary Jane’s home life, where everything is prim and proper, neat and orderly.
If her mother had even the slightest clue how Mary Jane was spending her summer, and with whom, she would never allow her to continue babysitting. Meanwhile, Mary Jane is having the time of her life. She takes care of Izzy, and the entire household. She shops, cooks, straightens the house, and listens to everyone’s problems… some very adult problems- and comes to realize how important it is to have some structure in one's life.
But, as the summer progresses, she also realizes that love, expressing your feelings, and spending time for your loved ones- is equally important- which is something that is missing from her own home.
Her education, and awakening promises a break in the chain from her super conservative… and racist parents, and a future where Mary Jane steps outside the sheltered confines of her current life, and into the world, with a better understanding of how to blend the best of both environments she lived through during the summer of 1975.
Mary Jane takes her usual stability and expands it- coming to a better understanding of others around her, but most importantly an understanding of who she is, deep down, what kind of person she wants to become- learning to think independently, while learning from her own personal experiences.
This is such a quirky, offbeat tale, but I would imagine that most people will turn the last page feeling utterly delighted with our wonderful, wonderful, wonderful protagonist- Mary Jane.
This young woman was such a pleasure and her character, along with little Izzy, is what makes this story work.
I do have one slightly preachy concern- due to the attitudes of Mary Jane’s parents, it is easier to judge them more harshly than the Cone’s.
But, before you pick on side over the other- remember the Cone’s were neglectful parents, lived in filth, and had frank sexual conversations in front of the fourteen-year-old babysitter, for heaven's sake!
Yes, I know, what you are thinking, and no, I didn’t miss the point of the story. I just felt that, as ugly as the racism is, two wrongs don't make a right, it doesn’t justify or redeem the Cone’s lifestyle or behavior.
I also don't think we should give the celebrities a pass either- just because they are famous.
Neither side was ideal- but one side was presented as being a better situation for Mary Jane and the reader is expected to embrace that concept as well. Both sides were unhealthy, in my opinion, and that’s part of the lesson Mary Jane learned, and it’s a lesson that will serve her well.
I couldn’t have been prouder of Mary Jane- she handles herself beautifully. If only the adults in her life had a small portion of her intelligence and grace, and could open their hearts half as wide…
Overall, a super wacky coming of age story geared toward adults- (beware the YA label)- that captures the odd juxtapositions of the seventies.
Despite some uncomfortable topics, Izzy and Mary Jane will charm your socks off!!
I really enjoyed this one. It is the quintessential, perfect coming of age story! All of the characters in this book were perfect and very well developed. Mary Jane and Sheba were my favorites. Highly recommend!
Is it possible to come of age in a mere summer? For fourteen-year-old Mary Jane, the answer is a resounding yes.
The year is 1970, the place is Baltimore.
Mary Jane Dillard is a teenager whose life is filled with singing in her church choir, cooking with her mom every day, and listening to show tunes. Outspoken and worldly, she is not. When asked to be a nanny for another family for the summer, her parents agree. After all, the home is respectable, what could go wrong?
The Cones however are nothing like the Dillards nor do they fit into any box. Love is strewn about freely, something Mary Jane has never seen as she has never been told nor said I love you to anyone. When Dr. Cone, who is a Psychiatrist, takes on a special client and his wife for the summer, Mary Jane’s life becomes even more interesting. Together, this makeshift family bonds together, with Mary Jane becoming the central character.
It is through this experience that Mary Jane stands up for herself and learns who she wants to be. Mary Jane is a gem: strong, smart, and oh so sweet. From the start, I was immediately swept up in her story. Mary Jane’s relationship with Izzy Cone stole my heart as did her relationship with the entire Cone family who treated her like a daughter. That said, not every relationship in this novel is picture-perfect, which may be a testament to the time frame during which the novel took place or simply in the way the characters are written. All in all, however, “Mary Jane” is an absorbing, fantastical read which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Thank you to NetGalley, William Morrow, and Custom House, and Jessica Anya Blau for the arc.
If I was rating this book on how much I liked it, it would be a 5🌟plus. If I was rating it on depth and intellectual knowledge it would be a 3 at best. So far this is one of the funniest books I have read. What do you get when you cross a 14 from a very conservative religious family with a 4.5 yo from a very liberal hippie family? Anyone born from the 60s early 70s back will love and understand this book. I relived a few years. Some OMG! What will people think!? To the free love, drugs and rocknroll. I mean after all, the first thing to draw my attention was the title of this book. It has it all! The shocked of society family. To the nude beach fun loving home raising a free spirited 4 yo. Talk about culture shock of conflicting values (and morals.). Find out what a sex addict this 14 yo virgin was. I believe what i found almost as funny was flipflops. Back in the 60/70/80s maybe 90s they were called thongs. Ahhhh, the author wrote a fun book but needed a bit more research on the lingo. I hope you read and enjoy this groovy book as much as I. Peace Love Rock n Roll ✌🏽
PS Parents you can’t bubble wrap your children. Let them grow their wings and fly. The leash won’t hold them in it will shove them out
Looking for a terrific coming-of-age story about a teenager who realizes there’s more to life than her sheltered upbringing? Read Mary Jane, the new novel by Jessica Anya Blau.
Was there a point in your childhood when you realized your parents weren’t always right about everything, that their views of the world might be out of step? That’s what happens to 14-year-old Mary Jane.
It’s 1970s Baltimore. Mary Jane is a good girl—she loves Broadway show tunes, sings in the church choir, and grows up in a conservative, traditional household. (There’s even a picture of President Ford hanging in the house.) Her father works; her mother takes care of the house and makes sure dinner is always on time.
Her mother gets her a summer job in “a respectable home,” working for the Cone family, helping care for their young daughter Izzy. (If only her mother knew that what appeared "respectable" on the outside was anything but on the inside!) But Mary Jane quickly realizes the Cones need far more than a helper—she practically takes over running the household in no time. She also knows that the Cones’ lifestyle is one her parents would definitely disapprove of, but that doesn’t make it wrong.
Mary Jane’s life is thrown for a loop when one of Dr. Cone’s patients and his wife move in, so Dr. Cone can help him beat his addiction. But it’s not just any patient—it’s Jimmy, a famous musician, and his even-more-famous wife, Sheba. Suddenly Mary Jane is the only person paying attention to what goes on with Izzy, ensuring whether there’s food in the house, getting the laundry done, etc. And at the same time, she starts to learn things about life, love, relationships, and music, things that conflict with the things she’s always believed. It’s good when your eyes are opened to what’s around you, but difficult at the same time.
I thought Mary Jane was great. I definitely felt like Blau captured the mood in society of the 1970s and the conflict between more "traditional" or conservative beliefs and more modern ones. Mary Jane was a terrific character and I loved seeing how her eyes were opened, but yet how she felt rooted in what she had been taught by her parents.
This was definitely a well-written and thought-provoking story!
This gem of a book was like buried treasure. The synopsis had some seductive elements such as the setting of 1970, being a teenager...and music-of course! I grew up in the sixties and seventies, and my love of music really blossomed during the 70s when I was a teenager. My favorite music station to stream is iHeart70s radio. Also, the cover wth the vinyl LP on the turntable reminded me of a Led Zeppelin album, since I remember them being on Atlantic records. I must say, this story wildly exceeded my expectations and kept me tethered to my kindle.
The main character is 14 year old Mary Jane. She gets a summer job taking care of a little 5 year old neighborhood girl named Izzy. Her mother Mrs. Bonnie Cone is a stay at home Mom, but nothing like a traditional wife and mother. In fact, she is derelict in her duties. Mary Jane is like a fish out of water when she steps into the alternate universe of the Cone household to assume her role. Mrs. Cone doesn't wear bras, is careless about cleaning the house, cooking meals and even giving little Izzy a bath. There are piles of books and sundry other bric a brac all over the house in random places. Mr. Richard Cone is a psychiatrist who sees patients in his garage office. He has a very special client this summer who he'll be treating as his sole patient, and he'll be boarding at the Cone house along with his wife. The intriguing part is it's a celebrity couple. Now, when I was first introduced to them in this book the wife's description "screamed" to me Cher as to whom it was based on. This was confirmed by a movie role "Sheba" was offered towards the end of the book that made me say..."Aha!". She's married to a famous musician named Jimmy who's in a band named Running Water. He has a drug addiction for which Dr. Cone is treating him. Other than being a drug addicted musician, he bore no resemblance to Cher's ex-husband Greg Allman. When Mary Jane first goes into the kitchen and sees Sheba sitting at the table she's utterly starstruck. Mary Jane and her Mom always watched Sheba on her variety show.
Mary Jane can't tell anyone that Sheba and Jimmy are staying at the Cone's house. It's a rule, but even if it wasn't, she couldn't tell her parents. Mary Jane's parents run a tight ship at their household. Her Mom's life consists of meal planning, cleaning the house, gardening and church. Her father's a lawyer and they belong to a country club. Mary Jane is a stand out singer in the children's church choir.
Mary Jane's skills make her more and more crucial at the Cone house, and it gets to a point where she's practically living there during the week. She finds herself telling little lies in order to justify her increased hours over there. She uses her mother's wonderful meal plans to cook scrumptious dinners and desserts at the Cone house. I loved reading the details of how she made each delicacy, drawing from her tenure helping Mom in the kitchen. She also made homemade pancakes called "bird's nests" each morning where you cut out the hole in the center of the pancake and cook an egg. She made Izzy a part of everything she did, including shopping for the groceries and preparing the food. Mary Jane also gradually organized everything in the house like the books that were strewn all over the place, and made sure that Izzy had a nightly bath.
It was so much fun for Mary Jane being around Jimmy and Sheba. In the evening the adults would smoke joints, and sometimes there would be group therapy sessions. Nothing was kept secret. This was the summer Mary Jane really grew up. She heard about sex, drugs and rock and roll. I laughed out loud many times. Mary Jane was really able to see and understand the contrasts between different lifestyles and value systems between the Cone household and her family's. Her talent for singing was also discovered by Jimmy and Sheba, and they would often harmonize and sing together.
I underestimated how good this book was going to be. What a delightful journey it took me on!
Thank you to the publisher William Morrow and Custom House for providing an advance reader copy via NetGalley.
I did not hesitate to give Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau 4.5 very strong glimmering stars after I finished reading this amazing coming of age book. It was so hard for me to put this book down once I started it. It was fast paced, character driven and very well written. I found it to be funny, entertaining, sometimes frustrating, and even hopeful at other times. Having been college age during the early 70’s, I was easily able to relate to the music, dress and life style represented by this decade in this book. It was a fun time to have grown up in but there were also many temptations and questionable choices that went along with living through this decade. When Mary Jane decided to work as a Nanny for five year old, Izzy, her whole concept about family and love would be challenged. Mary Jane would witness things in this family that her overprotective and strict upbringing had denied her from experiencing. Impressionable fourteen year old Mary Jane would begin to experience love, friendship and acceptance, possibly for the first time in her young life. Becoming Izzy’s nanny, allowed Mary Jane to begin to see life differently, come to appreciate various types of music in new ways and begin to like the person she was turning into. There was no going back for Mary Jane. She liked how this family made her feel. She had made loyal and devoted friends that liked and respected her for the person she was. It felt good but Mary Jane knew her parents would never understand this new world she had entered or the friends she had began to cherish. She began to understand and recognize how short sided, opinionated and prejudiced her parents really were. Could Mary Jane help her mother see her in a different and new way? Would Mary Jane’s mother be able to accept Mary Jane’s new ideas about what she wanted out of life and what kind of person she wanted to be? Could she get her mother onboard and rebuild their relationship?
I was extremely lucky to have won an advanced copy of Mary Jane in a goodreads’ give away in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Custom House publishers for affording me this opportunity. All opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. This was the first book that I have read by Jessica Anya Blau but I will definitely read other books by her in the future.
5-singalong ⭐️ The year 1975 Mary Jane Dillard gets a nanny’s job for the summer she comes from an affluent suburb Roland Park in Baltimore her parents are snooty with the house never dirty, Mary Jane helps her mother with everything from cleaning, cooking ironing etc… you get the drift!
When she starts her job at the Cones home she finds a whole new world of sex, drugs, & rock& roll Mr Cones a psychiatrist takes in a rockstar Jimmy & his girlfriend so that Jimmy can get clean Dr Cones clears his calendar so he can get it done, but Jimmy is a decent guy the whole family loves him.Mary Jane looks after Izzy who has a knack for wanting to know everything from males body parts to female body parts which Mary Jane explains in the drawings they do together, the repour between the two is strong & can’t be broken.
WARNING There is a bit of racism in this novel coming from Mary Janes mother which quite frankly annoyed the crap out of me but I remembered all the songs in this book it made me feel good loved everything about this book I also loved the banter between Izzy & MaryJane you would have thought they were sisters for me this was the feel good book of 2022 for me just amazing.
In Mary Jane, we follow our 14-year-old title character who is hired as a summer nanny for the daughter of a psychiatrist and his wife in 1970s Baltimore. Mary Jane’s family is conservative and religious, and when she meets the family she is working for, she is exposed to new ideas and a wider world than she had known previously.
When I started reading the book, I thought it was going to be a dark look into the counterculture of the 1970s, but that’s not what it is at the heart. It’s about Mary Jane’s questioning of what she has been told (or not told) about drugs, sexuality, racism, and personal relationships. I felt that the main character exhibited a lot of growth throughout the novel while still seeming accurate to her age. The author also presents an amazing cast of side characters that, though flawed, I rooted for and cared about as a reader.
I thoroughly enjoyed Mary Jane, and it was a great, summery book to pick up at the beginning of June.
Mary Jane is a heartwarming coming of age story about a 14 year old girl in the 70s who spends her summer with a little kid, her parents, a movie star, and her heroin addict rockstar husband. With the plot in mind, I honestly thought the story would be more exciting. I just didn't feel like there was much going on. With that being said, Mary Jane has great storytelling and lovable characters. Sheba is a great mother figure for Mary Jane, and Izzy is super cute (this is coming from an open child hater). The book tastefully touches on a myriad of heavy topics like addiction, mental health, racism, antisemitism, and gender roles. This would be overwhelming if the themes weren't presented as surface level as they were, which makes sense considering the book is told from the perspective of a high school freshman. I'm not sure why this book is marketed as being similar to Daisy Jones and the Six other than the fact that both stories take place in the 1970s. They're really nothing alike lol. Anyways, cute book. I enjoyed it, but definitely not a must read or anything.
This was such a fun one that put a smile on my face! I would put this one firmly in the “coming-of-age” camp even though our main character is just 14. I loved Mary Jane’s character, she sings in the church choir, loves show tunes, cooking, and gardening with her mom. It’s the early 1970s in Baltimore.
She gets a summer job with a nearby family, caring for Izzy. She encounters a family very different from her own. The mom, Bonnie, rarely cooks or cleans the house. The dad is a psychiatrist and has one exclusive client for the summer. Izzy is a sweet 5-year-old girl who loves to help Mary Jane with cooking, cleaning the house, ironing, and grocery shopping. The atmosphere at their house is one of love and affection, quite different than Mary Jane’s respectable stand-offish parents!
Things get even crazier when Mary Jane meets the exclusive and top-secret summer client – a young rock star, working on his sobriety and his superstar wife. Mary Jane is a little starstruck at first, but who wouldn’t love spending the summer with such a crew? There are serenades at dinner, spontaneous song writing, and a week at the beach. Jimmy and Sheba are quite the power couple! There are some serious issues that come up and Mary Jane has a chance to see how adults can navigate through these difficulties. She comes to view this as her family and feels that she fits in better with them.
Mary Jane is exposed to a whole new world that clashes with her parent’s viewpoint. She gains confidence in her voice and even more comfortable with her body, and it was fun seeing her open up. She also builds a closer relationship with her mother eventually! I really did enjoy this one.
Thank you to Book Club Girls/William Morrow and Custom House for the copy of this one to read.
Set in 1970’s Baltimore, this book is about fourteen year old Mary Jane who is hired as a babysitter for a psychiatrist and his wife. Mary Jane is used to a straight laced/rigid lifestyle, so she’s shocked when the Cones have a relaxed lifestyle with almost no social family norms in place. And then a rock star addict patient and his movie star wife come to stay for the summer, and Mary Jane begins to question who she is and what she wants in life.
I have to admit, the beginning of this book was a little bit rough for me because I didn’t realize this book is more of a “in the life of” or a “slice of life” kind of book without a conventional plot structure. I kept thinking to myself while listening “where is this going?” and then I realized I needed to let that go and enjoy the ride. And I did, and I am really glad I read this book.
The majority of this book is Mary Jane witnessing and experiencing new things and then altering her life perspective from there. I would say not much drastically takes place, but when you grow up in a rigid white household with strong conservative ideals, seeing things more relaxed and free can be a shock, and I think Mary Jane handled a lot of her situations with grace (way more than I would have if I was a teenager in her situation). And while this book is from the perspective of a teenager, it is not a young adult novel. It is an adult fiction novel 1000% based on the happenings of the book and the subject and I will die on that hill.
If you like audiobooks I would recommend listening to this book instead of reading it because there were quite a few musical elements and the audiobook was great at adapting those and it really enhanced the story.
Audiobook….read by Caitlin Kinnunen ….9 hours and 44 minutes
These are descriptions I read endorsing ‘Mary Jane’ by Jessica Anyu Blau:
“Bliss on every page”…
“A loving, sexy, funny, beautiful book”
Well … I don’t agree!!!! Big time don’t agree!!!
I thought it started out adorable in a very young adult way with a very naïve 14-year-old girl.
….For a while, I thought the story was charming … ….Then I thought it was completely childish …lyrics to the ABC’s was painfully boring. But….(thinking I was being a 70 year old turd — I took a breath and continued listening). After-all, I was soaking in our large, warm pool swimming around on this beautiful day so I didn’t have too much else to complain about.
I WAS WILLING to continue listening….role some eyes, yet enjoy it in ‘parts’ …. But then…. ….Mary Jane’s antisemitic family became disgusting…. To be sooo UGLY - dangerously spiteful to Jews in 1975 —and influence your children — and combine this childish- cutie-pie-ish story with LEARNING for Mary Jane….. finding her own voice opposed to her parents— secretly afraid to tell her parents anything about the Cone family (where she was babysitting Izzy), because of their lifestyle, beliefs, any tidbit of Judaism or Buddhist thoughts…. I just found it total nonsense! Of course, we know there’s going to be some awakening that Jews aren’t bad people, but give me a break — this book STINKS with antisemitism and racism!!!!
Charming — not in the least!!!!!
…Elementary …. …Tasteless caricatures and stereotypes….
Why, I ever thought this might be somewhat similar “Daisy Jones and the Six”….. I have no idea!!! It wasn’t even close!!! I can do cute, I can do nostalgia, I can do Popsicles, I can do a cute relationship between a babysitter, and a little girl… I can’t do ‘ happy, naïve antisemitism, even in Baltimore in 1975.
I just can’t forgive ugliness of the antisemitism and racism! It was glossed over, looked over…. way too easily!
A story set in Baltimore in the 70’s, the summer that Mary Jane Dillard had just turned fourteen. A pivotal summer that would change the way she viewed the world, and the people in it, and begin to question the adults in her life. Another novel compared to Daisy Jones and the Six, as well as Almost Famous, the movie.
Mary Jane and her family live in a lovely suburban neighborhood, where they are members of the local Country Club whose membership is ‘exclusive,’ and they live very predictable, ordered lives. The house is always tidy, Mary Jane is a good student, a good girl, and her parents are proud of her singing in the choir at their church, sweetly innocent of how her life will change over this summer. She has been hired as a nanny for young Izzy, the daughter of Dr. Cone and his wife - who obviously doesn’t wear a bra. It isn’t long before she’s noticed the differences in their households. The Cone’s house is always in some state of chaos, the refrigerator filled with cartons of milk that spoiled long ago, the silverware drawer is a disaster, and things are stored willy-nilly as though a poltergeist comes in at night and rearranges everything for fun.
First things first, Mary Jane knows she must clean and organize if she’s going to be able to help out, and with Izzy helping, she can also teach her how to clean and cook, which will be fun, but will also help Izzy since her mother doesn’t spend much time in the kitchen - unless it’s to guzzle some milk out of the carton.
Dr. Cone is a psychiatrist, and soon one of his patients, a famous rock star with addiction issues, Jimmy Bendinger, and his wife, a famous star in her own right, Sheba, will be boarding at the Cone’s home, but it must be kept a secret to protect them from the media and fans who would interfere with his recovery.
It is a summer that will change Mary Jane’s life, how she views her life, and the life she envisions for her future. She falls in love with the way this family embraces life so fully, and doesn’t feel a need to ‘fit in’ with other people’s ideas or lifestyles. She embraces them, and feels embraced for the first time in her life, by this family and the ease with which they share their feelings and affections. She begins to compare the same day-after-day life in her house to this home which seems to live each day fully, real feelings were shared, good or bad.
’In the Cone family, there was no such thing as containment. Feelings were splattered around the household with the intensity of a spraying fire house. I was terrified of what I might witness or hear tonight. But along with that terror, my fondness for the Cones only grew. To feel something was to feel alive. And to feel alive was starting to feel like love.’
Mary Jane’s summer will broaden her horizons, and teach her many things beyond her still somewhat tenderly-sheltered years. Some of things she learns are ones she will never forget, and most likely she will wish she could forget some of them, but she will also find her own voice.
’I was in the middle of the moment, the picture had been taken less than an hour ago, and already I felt the loss of time, the loss of this summer, the loss of this makeshift family. I supposed it was preemptive nostalgia, inoculating me for what was to come.’
A story which lightly explores some serious topics, but for the most part this is simply a fun, lightly entertaining read.
Many thanks to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book!
The 1970's is the perfect setting for this debut novel from Jessica Anya Blau. Mary Jane Dillard is fourteen. It is the summer of 1975 in Baltimore and she has a babysitting job for the doctor's family just down the street. What she discovers there is a totally different world from her own home. There is yelling, chaos, and the most adorable five-year-old, Izzy Cone. The sweet, tender relationship that develops between Mary Jane and Izzy was my favorite part of this book. Parenting styles differ widely between the Cone and Dillard households. Without realizing it, Mary Jane incorporates the best things she has learned from her parents and freely shares them with the Cones. There is much more to this book and I think it is best to let you discover it for yourself. This would make a fantastic book group read as there is much to discuss re parenting styles, racism in the 70's (against Black Americans and Jews), sexual mores, and addiction. The music component is phenomenal including religious, rock, showtunes, camp songs, and more. . . You will absolutely adore the ending.
Thank you to Custom House andNetGalley for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.
"So take this moment Mary Jane, and be selfish - Worry not about the cars that go by, 'cause all that matters Mary Jane is your freedom - So keep warm, my dear, keep dry"
-- lyrics by Alanis Morissette & Glen Ballard
Ms. Jessica Anya Blau, my new favorite author discovery of 2021 - after crazily enjoying her off-kilter earlier novels Wonder Bread Summer and The Trouble With Lexie - continues on her winning streak with the more down-to-earth coming-of-age story Mary Jane. Set during the carefree summer months of 1975 in the actual upper-middle class Baltimore suburb of Roland Park, we follow the title character - a mature but sheltered fourteen year-old hailing from a conservative household (she is an only child, and her middle-aged ultra-conservative parents are stiff, strict and exhaustingly formal in nature) - as she acquires her first real job as a teenager. The eccentric Cone family has moved into the neighborhood and they require a day-sitter for their precocious (but not cloying) five year-old daughter Izzy. Mary Jane gets said position, then finds out there is MUCH more to it . . .
Where to start? Well, the Cone family - a psychiatrist, his free-spirited wife, and aforementioned daughter Izzy - are the antithesis of Mary Jane's home situation. Liberal and laid-back, the Cones present an entirely different lifestyle than Mary Jane could probably ever conceive. Then there's the reason for the need for the day-sitter - Dr. Cone (who has an office at his home) has agreed to treat a patient exclusively for the duration of the summer, and the patient's wife is on friendly terms with Dr. Cone's wife. So the patient and his wife move into the Cone's spare bedroom . . . but Mary Jane has to keep this a secret, because the two are young celebrity couple Jimmy Bendinger and Sheba, a country-rock singer-songwriter-guitarist and a singer-TV variety show star-turned-movie actress. (Reading between the lines the duo is likely based on Gregg Allman and Cher, right down to 'Sheba' mentioning a particular movie role she is considering in the final chapters.) Throughout the summer Mary Jane has various experiences - often low-key, but sometimes dramatic or shocking - which open her adolescent eyes to a larger world that she probably never imagined due to her upbringing, and learns some difficult but essential truths about the fallibility of adults. I thought the book was charming and properly nostalgic, with a well-written cast of characters that will seem familiar to anyone who has spent time living in suburbia. Author Blau sure knows how to craft a readable story!